Andy Schmookler: The nation’s problems crystallized
Having spent a decade now trying to understand the sickness degrading America’s politics, I watch for developments that can help illuminate what’s gone wrong. Here’s one specific situation that crystallizes the larger problem.
It concerns the refusal of the Republicans in the Senate to consider any Supreme Court nominee who the president could put forward. Such unprecedented senatorial conduct would be reason enough for concern for our political system. But there’s another troubling piece of the picture.
According to a Washington Post report, the support from Republican activists for the Republican senators’ unprecedented stand is more intense than the support from Democrats for insisting that the confirmation process be conducted in accordance with America’s traditional norms.
This shows the two-sided nature of our political sickness.
Its takes both sides to create what the Post calls this “intensity gap”— a gap that, regrettably, can be found, regrettably, on other issues besides this judicial stonewalling matter. (Which is why this instance crystallizes much of America’s larger problem.) This intensity gap is the product of both the passionate support of the right for tactics ripping apart the structures of good American governance and of the lethargy of the left in defending those structures.
In this way, the defects of both sides combine to allow the quest for raw power to displace the rule of law, and of established American norms, in our nation.
Part of the problem, of course, is on the conservative side.
Many who call themselves conservatives, for example, regard sabotaging the proper workings of our constitutional system as a form of patriotism.
Many in the Republican base also do not seem to care that each justification the Republican senators have offered for obstructing the normal process for filling a vacancy on the high court has been exposed as hollow, mere pretense to cover a naked grasping for power.
Either they don’t know, or don’t care, about the damage such a pure power play inflicts upon the system our founders gave us for navigating our way forward together, despite our differences.
But since nothing in our recent history suggests that this “conservative” segment of our body politic is open to correction by evidence or argument, I will focus on the defects of the liberal side — its blindness and weakness.
Liberal America fails to see that the sacrifice of political norms in the pursuit of power — for example, distorting “advise and consent” into an across-the-board “block any nominee” — is a serious assault on the Constitution that our elected officials have sworn to protect and defend.
Liberals also seem unable to see how vital it is to protect that system — for the well-being of the nation, and of our children and grandchildren. For their lives will be impacted by whether that system has been preserved in good order or shredded by a sequence of such assaults as the current tactics of the Senate Republicans.
If Liberal America cannot be spurred to match the fighting intensity of the right in order to defend of our constitutional system, as well as to gain their rightful power on our highest court, what would be enough to rouse them?
What is it that keeps in check the intensity that liberals bring to the battle?
Perhaps there is fear of confrontation– fear growing out of years of experience in which Democrats have been consistently outfought and outmaneuvered by the likes of Karl Rove.
Some liberals may be restrained by the belief that “fighting is bad,” not acknowledging that sometimes waging combat is the best of the available options.
Both kinds of weakness appear to have hampered President Obama. Under continuing assault throughout his presidency, he has rarely fought back, and never with the intensity directed against him. And now, as his judicial nominee languishes like no other nominee has in U.S. history, the president has not spoken to the nation powerfully, in the stringent terms of moral condemnation called for by this unprecedented obstructionism.
He, and other liberals, seem to suffer from an insufficient capacity for moral outrage in response to outrageous conduct.
The distinction between right and wrong is of utmost importance for a healthy political system. Regarding this distinction, both conservative and liberal sides in America now show serious defects. The conservative side of our body politic routinely mistakes the wrong for the right. And meanwhile the liberal side responds without passion when the wrong is prevailing over the right.
That is a recipe for the degradation of the nation that we are witnessing in our times.
Andrew Bard Schmookler — the Democratic nominee for Congress in Virginia’s 6th District in 2012 — is the author of “What We’re Up Against: The Destructive Force at Work in Our World- and How We Can Defeat It.”